Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Child Photography, Street Photography - The Law, the internet and the Parents


Sometimes people are "funny" about having their photos taken - especially in public. It just seems entirely natural to be protective about one's “intellectual property" (IE a face) and how it's shared nowadays…. but are some people being a bit over-reactive /protective? What’s driving them?

This feeling seems to escalate beyond all proportion when children are involved - so really, what are people ACTUALLY afraid of happening?

Of course aside from the paranoia of 'Big Brother' watching you and conspiracy issues of government spies, terrorists, the Illuminati etc, the main issue here is the sexual pariah.

Let's face it, it's definitely a real problem and it's not going away any time soon.

So with this in mind, do you know the law regarding what a photographer can and can't do in public..... or do you just think you know the law surrounding this?

I photograph children a lot. Most of the time I know the kids and their parents personally or I am in a controlled environment like an official event. But there are times when I shoot kids in the street or at events whose parents I don't know so it's no surprise that I have been questioned, on more than one occasion by people around me as to my motives for this. IE - in this day and age, middle aged men taking pictures of random children in the street, or anywhere, can easily look suspect to an onlooker.

If you are a photographer who has done or still does this, you really need to know your stuff. You owe it to yourself so you don't go to jail, you owe it to the kids and their parents so that you don't fuel confusion and fear when you're working and last of all you owe it to all other photographers that you don't drag our art-form into unnecessary murky waters just because you've been a little thoughtless or unprepared for your shooting environment.

Below I unpack my thoughts surrounding this as a keen amateur turned professional photographer and also as a youth leader. I will clarify what the UK law of the land states and your rights as a photographer on the street, I will make an effort to lay out what to do with public images of children online and I also look at the motivation behind the need for responsible control.

Finally I also ask some questions to 'knee jerk' reacting parents. Those who are quick to confront a photographer, usually with a sense of mistrust verging on aggression, but who actually don't really understand (or have never even considered) what they're talking about or what they're really scared of!


Please note this is a blog... I am NOT a lawyer or a police officer. The below is my opinion that I have gleaned from doing online research and talking to various people. If you are needing more than just general info, please make an effort to corroborate stuff yourself and take proper legal advice - I'm not going to be responsible for your mistakes and my text won't stand for much in a court hearing!

This cites the law in the UK (including Scotland). Please obviously understand that this is almost certainly different if you are elsewhere in the world. Also note that the law is not static, and things have a tendency to change.


Here's the important bit that lots of people don't understand...

There are no rules to stop you photographing anyone you want to in public.

So long as you don't behave like a nuisance and provided the images are within the realms of 'decency' - especially of children.... then everything is good.

Generally speaking, you can, if you want to, go up to any child on the street and photograph them. You could even ignore any protest from a parent / passer by and you can then upload that image to the internet. Not only is this legal but you will also own this image (of another person's face) and can actually sue anyone for sharing it without permission. This is how the paparazzi behave when shooting celebrities - including children - no one arrests them and they get paid to behave like this!

If the angry parent in this example suspected you of being a pariah or just thought you were breaking the law, he or she could involve the police. But provided you hadn't acted in a suspicious or uncivilised manner during the taking of the photograph and both you and the child were in a public place, you are completely within your rights to do this and the police would have no legal grounds with you taking the shot in the first place or the subsequent publishing of the image taken even if the parent expressly wished for the shot to be deleted at the time.

This is the letter of the UK law - and you can (and should) look it up yourself. This doesn't mean you should ever resort to taking things to this level in a street side fracas with a crying and/or shouting parent and attending police officer... but just so you know where you stand from the start.

Should a confrontation like the above example happen to me, I would obviously just delete the image and move on long before things got heated - I wouldn't feel any need to cause any further fuss - but I might feel a little sad that the incident had to happen in the first place - especially if it stemmed from ignorance or unfounded fear on behalf of the parent or bystander. But hey, life goes on!

Here is some other info:

When you're NOT in public, you are under the rules and regulations of the landlord or the organisation that runs the building or event. For example, most, if not all, public swimming pools have rules against taking photos of children - especially in their swim suits. I once got stopped trying to shoot my own daughter coming down a flume at a pool. This was years ago - but the pool attendant did have a form ready for me to fill in that then allowed me to take the shot. So at least they had a system.... but the important thing to understand is that the law, as stated above doesn't necessarily count when you're on private property - even if there's nothing available in writing, you are still a guest at someone else's venue and can be ejected or even perhaps prosecuted for disobeying the rules of the owner or host.

This sort of thing will affect you in places like shopping centres and some public events like concerts or shows that are on controlled grounds. A public park, that has been gated and is ticketed (and therefore controlled) is a private event in this same way. You entering someone's space is enough to act as a legal acceptance of their site and event regulations - you are required to adhere to this.

So yes, if you (and the subject) are in a public space, then feel free to shoot away - but know this, if you are a nuisance or obstructive / hostile you can be apprehended on those grounds only and also if something doesn't look quite right to a bystander, for example you have chosen to hide in a bush to photograph partially dressed children in a play park with a long lens without proper reasons for doing this, you can obviously expect to be taken away and interviewed as to your motives.... you might not have broken a law in the first instance, but if a police officer suspects that something isn't right, they will do their job - and you will deserve everything you get for being either a paedophile or just completely stupid!


I photograph children and teenagers all the time. It’s a speciality and a passion of mine.

I am a disclosed volunteer church youth leader who is vetted via the PVG (People of Vulnerable Groups) scheme and our church has a responsible "opt in" policy for the images I post - which ostensibly means that I have parental permission to post these images online. I currently have three PVG certificates - one for the church, one for our local primary school, and one for a local public event group that stages the annual village Gala Show. Each organisation you shoot for need to apply (and pay) for a PVG certificate if you are going to go near children etc. Perhaps if you are at a distance and not talking to them you could avoid this.... but it's easy to do - and then you're covered - so I say do it.

It was actually at this afore mentioned Gala Show that I was confronted by a parent recently.

I was shooting a bunch of kids who were jumping up at the camera, shouting and photo-bombing each other. Nearby this woman (who was a parent to a child who was actually not present) spied this event taking place. She had been drinking alcohol in the event's beer tent and she was also (I later found out) by nature, quite a hot headed person. She approached me with, shall we say, a sense of purpose.

Despite the blunt "excuse me, but who are you and what are you doing?" opener, the following exchange we had was polite and measured since I had my 'ducks in a row' and was able to quickly demonstrate this. She went away from our chat content that all was well and I was able to continue shooting the excited and jumping kids - the results of which can be found here.

If you're interested, here's what I had in place:

1. I had a PVG certificate set up by the event's managers. I wasn't asked to produce it! - I do however have all my certificates scanned and available on my phone stored in a Dropbox - and can therefore display and email them to whomever and whenever required.

2. As a result of the above, I obviously had permission from the event's managers to shoot freely that day. The show is public and is for the whole community - though it is called the "Children's Gala" - basically it's the kids that are the centrepiece!

3. This was a public event - worth noting though that the park we were in was a private space. So the rules of the hiring body... the Gala Committee, therefore came into place. A notice that a photographer was in attendance was attached to the fence at the entrance to the event. No one really paid much attention to this I'm thinking... and its presence was merely a courtesy / formality. But hey, it was there - I even took a photo of it for my records. Other than conversations with members of the committee prior to the event and an email trail of these chats, no other paperwork existed.

4. I did have a fluro vest with the event's details written on it (event marshal it said on the back!) ... and I should especially point out that, for that one minute that this whole confrontation thing happened, I wasn't actually wearing it. My guess is that, had I been doing so then this episode would have not occurred.

5. It's also worth noting that I had actual reasons for being there - I could demonstrate that I was not just someone who liked taking photos of children, but I actually maintain the event's online photo galleries and have done so for the three years prior. I should say though that this was actually the first year I had all this sorted... the previous three years were shot just as a parent / participant and I would have probably had to 'talk faster' if I'd been doorstepped by a concerned parent on this topic at any other time.


Within our church and surrounding community, I know about 200 youths and I have shots of nearly all of them - these can be viewed at high resolution on both public as well as secured websites. Images exist on both locked and unlocked Instagram accounts and Facebook. I love kids, tweens and teens and I’m very proud of these shots. The kids love them too... and of course so do the parents that I speak to - I send high resolution photos to respective parents and relatives for free. Yes I'm a professional photographer, but this is a free service I provide.

As stated above, rules can change when you are photographing children on private property. Our church has its own policy - which I helped to write. It's an opt in system and we ask all parents whose children attend our youth events to sign a specific release form document which covers the seven or so years they are with us until they are 18. If the parent can't be bothered to sign, then I don't publish images of that child anywhere.

Amongst this managed church group, there is a small group of parents who have ticked the “NO” box on the form. They do not wish their kid’s faces to appear online. This is a totally respected position, and I work hard to conform and gently exclude these off limits teens from publication… even from large group shots if I can… something that is sometimes hard for me when I have to delete a great shot.

I try to avoid telling these “NO kids" that I can’t shoot them - especially since many of them don’t seem to be consulted on what their parents have or haven’t ticked. But this isn’t always easy as a few of these kids have come up to me in the past wondering why they’re not appearing in any of the galleries. I have to just come clean and state that I’m not allowed to! Like I say, there are only a few and it is (so far) a manageable situation. My guess is that, for a few of these cases, the parent has ticked 'no' without actually realising what it means. It's not my job to query them however.

It’s probably important to note that none of the kids personally have a problem with me photographing them - this is really just a parent thing.…. and, in passing, it should also be noted that, whilst this is going on, they all of course have smartphones (as do all of their friends) and are constantly taking tons of shots of themselves and each other and posting these images all over the world in often unrestricted social media sites. Not my problem of course - but, like I say, worth noting in passing.

So anyway, I respect our local parents and these rules that exist.

As I mentioned, it was me who initiated the “opt in or out” programme in the first place. I am in favour of protected kids, happy parents and of course the process also protects me as the photographer.


But then one day I was checking out the works of street photographers through the ages - the likes of people like Oscar Marzaroli (1933-1988) - So this famous Glaswegian photographer used to roam the streets of his city in the 1950-80s photographing anything that caught his eye - especially children and it made me wonder what would happen to me if I chose to take up the same kind of work nowadays.

I do love “fly on the wall” work and reportage photography and would feel pretty natural if I saw a scene in a park and wanted to photograph it in the same way as any street photographer would do. Yes I occasionally photograph kids in the street already... but it has always been kids I know personally or it's been when shooting specific community events as mentioned. So what would happen if I just felt like randomly shooting strangers..... children?

Well, unlike Oscar above, I would almost certainly be met with suspicion. Parents and bystanders would feel awkward that a random guy is photographing people and I would probably sense that awkwardness in advance whilst on site and feel a need to explain myself. The only people not feeling awkward in this scenario would probably be the children themselves!

Nowadays, with cameras everywhere, instead of being more gung-ho than ever with child photography, we are met by the curse of the pariah backlash. We get an automatic feeling of concern or even dread if we hear sentences that contains words like strangers - photographing - children.

So now you know the law of land and where you stand as a photographer.... and now you understand the importance and beauty of street photography such as the Marzaroli picture above - the importance and innocence of his work… so, I’ll just remind y’all of my motivation to write this blog in the first place…
  • Where is the ACTUAL fear coming from? 
  • Should people be concerned? 
  • What should they be doing about it? 
  • What should we be doing about it as photographers?


The next chapter for this story led me to research Joseph McArthy and also the Salem Witch Hunt in the US.

I read this
and this
and also this
and a bunch of other stuff too.

I'm not especially blessed with brevity as you can tell (sorry / not sorry for long post!) - but I'll spare you the details of my findings.

Enough to say that, each time I looked into threats concerning unseen, or unknown dangers, what seemed to accompany the mass hysteria was a lack of reason and logic.

First of all, what is the matter with “panic-people" who have all these worries and concerns about various pariah fears, but then refuse to talk about the real nuts and bolts?

Why spend you time being scared of horrible stuff if, when people want to talk about it to your face, you avoid or truncate the subject?

If you don't like paedophiles and perverts, and the fear of them is causing you to react in a certain way... then surely it makes sense not to bury your head in the sand when the subject comes up?

This part of my blog deals head on with 'knee jerkers' who like to cause all kinds of paranoid fuelled, party pooper problems - but then refuse to actually address the issues at the heart of the situation.
  • Don't you think that fear is a huge driver for people?
  • What's the media's role in this?
  • Is there someone somewhere that is prepared to stand up in all this and actually nail this openly? 
  • Has the pervert robbed us of the past freedom of candid street photography of children?
  • Can we steal it back?

So now let's look at what you are actually protecting at grass roots level…. Please excuse my direct approach here but we parents are all trying to stop images of our children from being used as sexual gratification by a twisted "perv".

We all know that pervs exist, we know that they surf the web and we know that there are millions of images of children for them to access. I guess we just don't want them "getting off" on pictures of OUR kids. 

And just so I don’t only harp on about hysterical parental fearmongery - here is an article that I discovered (published on 11th November 2014) that talks of what is happening in the real world. If this link expires, I’ve got an offline copy. It basically reports on a girls' school in Northern Ireland that had, what appears to be an open website containing images of the girls. These shots were seemingly taken by the girls themselves but were not provocative / nude or x rated. In other words they were normal pictures of young girls having fun on a standard school website. According to the article some “bare skin and underwear were exposed” on occasion.

These school girl images were then (unbeknown to the girls and the school) downloaded and then uploaded to a pornography site (hosted in Israel somewhere) and were displayed with comments from members etc that were obviously sexually inappropriate. Here’s a quote from the report:

BBC Spotlight NI showed the images to the former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), Jim Gamble. 

"Whoever is collecting these images and putting them within the context of this site has a real problem and, in my opinion, an extremely deviant sexual interest in children," he said.

"If I was to find this on someone's computer that they were uploading it, and I was still in the police, they would be arrested that day."

Mr Gamble also highlighted the potential dangers that could have been caused by the images being shared beyond the website.

"If you are saying to me do I think some of these images will end up in paedophile collections, then the answer to that is of course I do, yes," he said.


So after reading the above you might go to the fear-place labelled “It’ll be my kids next”.

You’ll say things like:

"I want the pictures of my kids completely removed from everything on line. Now!"

And perhaps you'd be right..... but if you have teenage kids in the west... and they have a smart phone... there is a very high chance that their image is already online right now... so what are your control measures going to be?

Knee jerk reactions exist to correct wrongs. They are often irrational, but that doesn't mean we throw out the whole idea of a lockdown response.

I would say that it is totally right and logical to remove the images of the girls from this particular site the moment this happened. What other corner is there to fight in this example and what could possibly benefit anyone by leaving the images up online? I doubt anyone considered this for a second before hitting delete.

The issue with the above situation isn't really that the images were there, it's perhaps more that the service wasn't really monitored, it was certainly abused and then the story went public.

Publishing this sad story might fuel the fear, but it probably also helped to track the perpetrators and it of course brought the school webmaster in check too.

It was around this time that I locked our church youth gallery page with a password. It made me sad to do it..... but it felt like the right thing to do. Did I knee jerk too?


But, again, uneasy as this story makes you feel, please consider…. what is the ACTUAL risk here? 

It's obviously sad, creepy, perverted.... whatever, but if a person downloads an image of your own child for the wrong reasons, how does this actually affect you or them in the end?

You might say totally logical things like “I don’t like it”, but you still don’t nail it just by issuing an emotional response.

So let me speak for you in your absence!

It's a violation. But not a direct one. It's a third party event where only the image of someone is involved.

So it's violation by proxy... And you and those in the photographs perhaps don't feel violated since (at least until the news breaks) you remain unaware that it's happened at all. Any actual physical assault or act involving you or your children is simply non-existent.

Does this make you feel better? Probably not. This scenario is perhaps especially bad when say a private act of a pornographically motivated download becomes a re-uploaded porn site image for all as it was in the above news story.

So anyway I'm naming it, and you're perhaps squirming a little..... and meanwhile I'm still uploading pictures of other people's children to an unsecured site. Why am I doing this?

Well, I'll get to the positives in a minute.... but first of all, one of my reasons comes from a militant side of me. Brothers and sisters, we are at war with the pariah!


By removing images of your kids from the web, what good do you really do? Are you just another “panic-person”? Have you just been another sucker to the mass-lockdown fear-mongery reaction? The Oscar Marzaroli days are over. The very art of street photography as we know is blemished or at last curtailed. The pariah wins.

One of my big bug-bears with behavioural perception is the paranoid response "I don't feel this way, but what if someone else does?" In other words, people asking me to remove or protect images for placating reasons only. Someone perceives that someone else might perhaps get the wrong end of the stick.... so just to be safe.....

You know, I've always been a "how it is" person and I never feel good about altering activity in the name of safety just because of concerns over second hand perception. It just feels like cowardice to me. The pariah wins again.

Now let's look at the message this LOCK DOWN AND PROTECT action looks like to the children and teenagers themselves.

What do you think the overall feeling is for them when you start closing, deleting and locking everything?

Yes this a world full of lurking and unknown horrors that we all need to be prepared for, but it’s also a world of joy and beauty. We teach our children to wear seatbelts, we don't stop them travelling in cars. If we have an area of freedom, creativity and expression that is just shut down, then sadly the pariah wins one more time.


Since fear is the driver here - and also since so often part of that fear is based on not really knowing what actually happens to an uploaded picture online once you've posted it, you need to look at the odds - and of course previous cases... so you can ascertain the chances and the shape of possible ramifications. The bad things that might occur because you were either ignorant or just too relaxed at the time of the original upload.

Let's say your child texts you to say that they've just gone for a walk along a cliff face. You're miles away and are totally unable to intervene.

Your fear is that they might venture to the edge and fall. But if you're not there, you don't actually know how close to edge they are. Perhaps your child is taking great precaution and is sticking to the path... going no where near the wrong side of the barrier. They were safe the whole time and they loved every minute - being outside with their friends with a beautiful view.

You have no way of knowing this, so you project various worst case scenarios in your head and then breathe a sigh of relief when they come home safe and sound. Your worries were in vain. This is a fear based on the unknown.

But in this story, there is at least a present danger.... that of falling off the cliff. Your fear was unfounded but not pointless. Cliffs are very binary things. You stay on them then you come to no harm. You fall off them and you die. At least there was a cliff there to fear! People are naturally weary of children and cliffs. The cliff walk was also a finite danger. Once your child returned, the danger ceased.

In the photography / pariah analogy you not only have the worry of your child's safety - something you can basically conjure up whenever you're out of control of a situation or away from your child... but you have to invent the chances of a cliff being there too. And you have to shape the nature of the cliff to various totally unknown dangers most of which are just guesswork based on illogical worry. This also doesn't end until you delete your Facebook account and remove your whole family from the internet.

Tell the child they can't go for the cliff walk simply because of what YOU fear might happen, is something that parents do all the time. When they can't control things, they have a tendency to lock them down. Now I'm no child psychologist, but I AM a parent, and I have learned many times that kids are normally smarter than us parents give them credit for, and they have a good sense of self preservation. Once you equip a child with the parameters of what good judgement and decision making looks like, you will, at some point, have to let them go and do these things themselves.

If not, when they see you freaking out at every step, then one of two things can easily happen.

1). They become paranoid fear mongerers themselves. They know you don't trust them, and now they don't trust themselves. Congratulations, you've just inhibited your child's ability to revel in joy and the good things in the world.

2). Your constant "no you can't.... be careful" mantra just creates a distance from your child as they grow up. Now as teenagers they have stopped listening to your constant worry and are now actually doing crazier things than they would have normally done in rebellion to your pampering fears - fears that were more about you than they are about what's best for your child.

Putting parental techniques and cliff walks to the side, I simply want to say that I love what I do. Here's the positive bit.


The photos I take of children are beautiful - I look at many of them and smile at how lovely some of these kids are. Over the years I'm watching them all grow up and have families of their own.

I take photos of children because I'm a youth leader who serves with a passion and I'm a very keen amateur photographer. I would be devastated if people thought I had any other motives beyond this.

So, whilst I celebrate the pictures I take, the technology that allows me to share them…. and whilst I also design, utilise and respect appropriate use of these images, I also sigh with disappointment that we live in the world where these security measures are necessary. I want to protect my teens - but I don’t want to lockdown everything and let the bad guys win. it just feels wrong. My images are of lovely young people with clothes on!

I love the emotions of the moment, I love the memories, I love to serve the parents (most of whom could never take as good a shot as I can!) I love to share the pictures for enjoyment and perhaps, occasionally a bit of validation of my skill, I love the art form of photography and I get to take and look at pictures of all kinds of people because of who they are and what they mean to me. I also love the public nature of the shots. I don’t always want to lock things behind a password. I certainly don’t want to restrict access if it’s simply on behalf of appeasing the panic 'knee jerkers' only.

I intend to keep doing this - and my only goal is legitimate and innocent pleasure for all parties concerned. To use Christian terminology, I rebuke the pariah and the fear he's created. I fly in the face of the joy he quashed using fear in the media.

I reclaim the right to enjoy photographing all kinds of people - and to love looking at these pictures with all the true and real values that the art form exists for. My wish is for parents to drop their fears and to dive in to this beautiful, visual and online world. Don’t panic without knowledge!

If I show a parent a shot of their child and they are more concerned with its distribution than its beauty, then I will humbly concede and delete any shot that upsets them for whatever reason - I won't actively try to persuade them against any perceived or rational fear…. but I'll be sad at the loss and I'll wonder at how scared the parent is…. and whether the fear is in itself enslaving and without reason.

So these are my current thoughts on the matter.

To the panic-person I say turn off your knee jerk.... turn on your brain.... Capture the beautiful moments of your children as they grow and, with a good balance of obvious political, rational sensitivity, and informed care, make positive decisions about how these images are distributed.

Do you want your children to hide and quake or live and fly?

My photographs are the embodiment of youth and joy. I for one am honoured to capture these moments for everyone involved and since there is justified motivation for the creative service I provide and since I handle and distribute the results responsibly, I feel this is something worth protecting for as long as I can.

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